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The Reporter – Autumn 2017


Set among rolling hills and valleys and majestic forests is our Northern KwaZulu-Natal Division. Yet beneath the beauty of this countryside, with its picturesque thatched kraals dotting the landscape, lies a community that is plagued by poverty and the devastation to family life wrought by diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS.

Major Lenah Jwili
Major Lenah Jwili

Our Divisional Commander for this extensive area, which stretches from Vryheid where even the coal mines seem a natural part of the scenic hills, to Nongoma, 300 km north of Durban and includes Ulundi – once capital of Zululand, then alternating capital of KwaZulu-Natal (1994 – 2004), is Major Lenah Jwili. It was she who drew the Reporter’s attention to the plight of the people in this area – the unspeakable destitution, the number of child-headed households where children are orphaned and left to fend for even younger siblings, the teenage pregnancies . . .

No city dweller accustomed to the slick veneer of civilisation could be prepared for the heart-wrenching stories unfolded through the interpretation from Zulu by Lt Zama Shelembe, one of Major Jwili’s Corps (church) officers. Mr Mkhayiseli Mhlongo, formerly a Vryheid councillor and now a respected community leader, expertly negotiated the dusty pot-holed roads and straying animals to take us on a 150 km journey of sad discovery.

A teenage nightmare

Our first stop was the informal settlement of Emadoshini where we met Sonto Nkosi* who lost her mother at age 14, when a young girl most needs the love, support and encouragement only a mother can give. She never knew her father. Although the youngest of three sisters the responsibility fell on Sonto to look after the family while their older brother worked in Durban to help financially when he could. Today Sonto, now 22, is herself a mother of two small children – three-year-old Themba and year-old Thuli.

This family lives in a two-roomed RDP house which had been given to her mother. It’s sparsely furnished with a small table and chair in the living room, a few plates and two pots on the table – but no food. She’s filled with sadness as both her sisters have also passed on and they were a happy family, despite the poverty.

Sonto (left) with Lt Zama, our invaluable translator and Sonto’s two children
Sonto (left) with Lt Zama, our invaluable translator and Sonto’s two children

Tearfully she relates how, after their mother and older sister had both died, she and her remaining sister went to live with an aunt in the Nongoma area. The changes in her life were traumatic. She missed her mum deeply, she was hurting and her life was diffi cult – and empty. Despite these emotional strangleholds this brave child managed to complete her schooling (grade 12). Then she moved to her mum’s RDP house, alone and filled with the hope of finding work. This did not happen and is still an ongoing struggle although Sonto is willing to do any job to support her young family. She has no contact with the children’s father who left soon after they were born. She lives off a meagre child grant and with no other income there is barely enough for food each day.

Sonto yearns to become a social worker. “I don’t want my kids to suffer like I did, I want to give them a good education so they can have a better life,” she says with a determination that makes us believe she will succeed.

Too much to bear

Another informal settlement, another family tragedy plays out. Ema300 is another desperately poor community, with a mix of makeshift shacks and RDP houses. Here we met Phumzile Dlamini*, one of three sisters who were still at school with a toddler at home when their parents died. Alone and frightened, the oldest just a teenager, these girls had to face a hostile world, had to cope somehow to survive.

Lt Zama with Phumzile and her sister’s handicapped child
Lt Zama with Phumzile and her sister’s handicapped child

Now 27 Phumzile still feels the terror and strain of simply trying to exist. In grade 11 when orphaned, she had to leave school as there was no money for a uniform and fees. She had to find work to support the family. Without qualification or training, jobs are hard to come by – any piece work she can get is a blessing. Her idea of a ‘dream job’ is to work in a supermarket as a packer or cleaner!

This young Zulu woman has two sons, one aged eight years, one just 12 months. She ekes out a living off the pitiful child grant she receives. Living with her and adding to her strain is a sister with a severely handicapped and mentally disabled five-year-old daughter. Seeing the special care this little girl needs, and understanding the suffering the mother and aunt are going through on her behalf, are enough to make one weep. Isn’t this too much to bear?

The ‘Army’ – a true salvation

The twins, Zakhele and Xoli
The twins, Zakhele and Xoli

In the heart of the drought-stricken northern KwaZulu-Natal, small villages are dotted among the mountain ranges like a patchwork quilt. Cows, goats, chickens and the occasional dog roam the area, scavenging desperately for food. The crippling drought has
led to water becoming a luxury, no longer free but available at a price few can afford. Prices of basic staples like maize meal, samp and beans have also soared: they, too, are unaffordable. Sometimes families here have to go days without water. What little they
have is treasured for drinking and cooking. Thankfully the recent rains have filled some of the smaller dams and there are traces of water in the rivers and a promise of new growth in the fields.

We have come to the Khambi area, high up in the mountains. We’re warmly welcomed by Capt Helen Mdluli and Princess Khumalo (not of royalty but given the name at birth). She is the Young People’s Sergeant Major at the Khambi Corps. Music from the church hall draws us to see a group of youngsters aged 8 to12 at band practice. The melody lifts our spirits as we take a short walk through the hills to a small village where we meet twins – Zakhele and Xoli Xaba*, brother and sister respectively.

The twins never knew their mother and were raised by their father who passed away when they were 12 years old. The orphans were sent to live with their grandmother who died just two years later so an aunt took them in.

According to Zakhele life was not easy and what’s kept them going since coming to their aunt eight years ago has been the closeness of The Salvation Army Corps. “Here we could make
friends, find love and learn something meaningful.” He remarks “Princess took us under her wing and still helps and guides us spiritually and emotionally. She is like a big sister, always ready to give advice, encourage us to go to school, to pray, and go to church.”

Zakhele completed grade 12 last year and has been put forward as a candidate for Salvation Army cadetship. Having ‘grown up’ in The Salvation Army, he believes he was saved to save others and has a calling to become a pastor. His twin, Xoli, is still at school and says she’d like to be a pastor too.

Pre-teens in band practise - in the middle of nowhere
Pre-teens in band practise – in the middle of nowhere

 The terror of a 10-year-old

Nelisiwe and her baby with Lt Zama
Nelisiwe and her baby with Lt Zama

On the other side of the mountain in the little village of Coronation we found Nelisiwe* who has already experienced too much sadness in her short life. One of five siblings, she was a tender seven-year-old when their beloved mother became ill and died, followed shortly afterwards by the death of the oldest sister. Three years later she and her father were in a motor car accident which took his life, leaving the children orphaned.

Naturally this ten-year-old, who had already experienced the deaths of three loved ones in just three years, was overwhelmed by shock and grief. Although one of five siblings – two boys and originally three girls – she felt alone and scared, wondering what would become of her.

The oldest brother took in all his younger siblings, but over the eight years since their father died, they’ve grown up and moved on. Now 18 years old, Nelisiwe has a six-monthold daughter. We call on them unexpectedly in their tiny two-roomed house and find the young mother intently studying her school books, with her daughter sitting contently beside her.

Despite her incredibly hard life, Nelisiwe says the worst thing she has experienced was having her child before finishing school. We want to know how or why she got pregnant but in this area this seems to be a taboo subject. Changing the subject, she maintains that if her parents were still alive she would have passed her final exams last year. Now in Grade 11, this brave young mother is determined to study further to become a social worker. Having a child has changed her life greatly but at least her babe’s father, who lives in Newcastle, does support her.

The poverty and despair we saw in this KwaZulu-Natal region was deeply moving. Life is a constant struggle for these people. The poverty is unbelievable. No incomes, no food, no water – we wonder just how they manage to survive. We have to believe that with faith and prayer – and the constant support from our loyal donors, we can make a difference to their lives.
Hopefully one day they can break out of the cycle of poverty.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Salvation Army in thick of xenophobic violence

Salvation Army in thick of xenophobic violence

“Major, major, they’re burning up our neighbourhood!”

The pictures on television were graphic – and frightening as a dozen houses burst into flame, torched by angry residents in Rosettenville, a southern Johannesburg suburb. Their anger was directed primarily at Nigerians, accused of being drug lords and brothel keepers and their removal demanded.

In the heart of this area is The Salvation Army’s South Rand Corps. Major Andrew and Beckie Murray, Corps officers, had just arrived at OR Tambo airport to collect officers from the United States when the Major received that frantic phone call. He confirmed the dire situation in the suburb. “We’ve had 12 break-ins in the past three years at the church. Drugs and prostitution are rife in this area, making it extremely unsafe.”

The first of the recent attacks was on Sunday February 12 when we saw burnt tyres on our way to and from church. The second was on the following Sunday when we were at the airport. A house just five doors from our home had been torched! It was quite traumatic! No, none of the Corps people were hurt. And, yes, of course we gave food and blankets to those affected. We tried to help by being a presence in the neighbourhood.”

Major Andrew and Beckie Murray relieved to be unscathed
Major Andrew and Beckie Murray relieved to be unscathed

Is it safe to go out?

Five days after the houses were set alight The Salvation Army was back in the thick of things, making a presence on every street with the Urban Praying Friday Night Ministry. This takes place on at least one Friday a month when, from 11:00 p.m to 2.00 a.m. on Saturday, we chat to and pray for the prostitutes. “When asked what we are doing, we reply – just praying for the whole community and is there something I can pray for you for?” Major Andrew explains.

“Throughout 2017 and beyond we will mobilize our congregation to reach out to the community in the name of Jesus Christ,” the Major continues. “Our goal is to ‘prayer walk’ the entire neighbourhood. As true Christians, we need to do like Jesus did. We need to minister where the people are. We can’t hide behind our walls – then the drug lords win, Satan wins, pimps win. Prostitutes are not allowed to talk to anyone except The Salvation Army. Some pimps are very aggressive. Part of our job is to dispel the darkness by being a light.”

In this seedy suburb, every Sunday after the service there’s a soup kitchen outside the church. And we encourage local kids to join in our Sunday School in the Park service. The drug lords and brothel-keepers may profit from their evil, but The Salvation Army always keeps the doors to God’s kingdom open.

Have we lost our values?about-us-the-reporter-autumn2015-major-carin-holmes

Why is it that an organisation like The Salvation Army has to struggle more than ever to survive while millions of rands are being squandered by official organisations? How can one person demand a salary of five million rands a year – is anyone worth that much – when fellow South Africans are starving and sleeping on the streets?

Why are parents bribing their kids with expensive gifts like iPhones instead of encouraging them to earn the right to rewards? What’s happened to family values? Why are children being dumped at shopping malls on weekends to do as they like and spend as they like instead of spending quality time with their parents and being taught true values?

At The Salvation Army we want to weep at the profligate spending on irrelevant political issues when we are facing the really serious social issues like gambling, human traffi cking, prostitution, pornography, child and female abuse, and poverty – and trying to uphold moral values and integrity.

Because we are committed to helping the needy throughout the country, in all our homes for humans, from new-born babes to those who are reaching the end, The Salvation Army is in desperate financial trouble.

As you know, cost of living soars day by day, making it more and more diffi cult to meet our commitments. Unfairly, we are almost totally dependent on our donors and we can only beseech you to become even more generous if you possibly can – especially on a monthly basis. Without your support we cannot continue.

Right now we have to make some hard decisions, which could include having to sell some of our properties – which, in turn, means withdrawing our care for hundreds.

How sad that under current circumstances we have to question the integrity of our leaders, the fading of family values, the darkness that has taken over our way of life. Help us heed God’s call to “let there be light”. Let The Salvation Army live on so that we can continue to bring hope, change and love. Invest with us today and help us invest in people. Help us to continue our founder’s cry Heart to God, Hand to man.

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Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory